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Notice periods – is there any point?

I often hear people complaining about someone having to work a notice period.  They wonder why the employer is being difficult or intransigent about making them work when really, the employee just wants to get gone. Surely they should just be allowed to go?

Then there’s the view that the employee won’t do any work or won’t be of any benefit to the business during their notice period so what exactly is the point anyway?

I’m familiar with these views but I’m also familiar with what a business owner thinks and feels when an employee resigns.  Sometimes it’s relief and I admit I’ve celebrated with the employer at times when a particularly interesting member of staff has decided to resign!

However, there is also the disappointment to contend with. The sense of failure. The personal affront that many business owners feel when someone resigns. Not feeling good enough, feeling rejected or betrayed even… all of these are common reactions from a business owner when faced with the prospect of losing a treasured member of staff.  The reasons for them leaving are generally immaterial; it’s the leaving that hurts.

Dealing with a resignation can be like dealing with a body blow. It signals the end of a relationship and, like any relationship, we are doubly shocked if we just didn’t see it coming. The departing employee knew this was happening. They’ve been making plans, attending interviews, building their future so they’ve already come to terms with the idea that they’re moving on. They’re excited about the next phase in their lives.

The employer, on the other hand, has to deal with their own reaction to the decision and then deal with the practical matters of workload, cover and finding a replacement. It’s little wonder then that they’re generally not inclined to want an employee to leave without working their notice period. The notice period serves a purpose for the employer – it helps them to get used to the idea and it also buys them some time while they figure out what to do next. Not to mention the fact that it’s what the employee signed up to in the first place! The contract of employment clearly states the required notice period so from the employer’s perspective, it isn’t and shouldn’t be a moveable feast.

So next time you wonder about that intransigent employer who wants a full notice period worked, put yourself in their shoes. Try to understand that although the employee wants to go off into the sunset in their new job, the employer is often left picking up the pieces.

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